Linda Williams (film scholar)
December 18, 1946 |
|Institutions||University of California, Berkeley|
|Alma mater||University of Colorado|
|Thesis||Figures of desire: an analysis of surrealist film (1977)|
|Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible|
University of California, Berkeley
Williams graduated from University of California, Berkeley with a B.A in Comparative Literature in 1969, and then earned a PhD at the University of Colorado for her dissertation subsequently published as Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film. Her main academic areas of interest are: film history, film genre, melodrama, pornography, feminist theory and visual culture; all with an emphasis on women, gender, race, and sexuality.
With respect to film genres, she argues that horror, melodrama, and pornography all fall into the category of "body genres", since they are each designed to elicit physical reactions on the part of viewers. Horror is designed to elicit spine-chilling, white-knuckled, eye-bulging terror (often through images of blood); melodramas are designed to elicit sympathy (often through images of tears); and pornography is designed to elicit sexual arousal (often through images of "money shots").
- Figures of Desire: A Theory and Analysis of Surrealist Film, University of Illinois Press, 1981. Paperback edition: University of California Press, 1992, ISBN 0-520-07896-9
Linda Williams examines the theoretical and poetic writings of the Surrealists during the period from 1910 to 1930 and traces the emergence of a poetics of the cinematic image based upon the fluid associations of dreams and the unconscious. Incorporating both Lacanian psychoanalytic theory and Metz's methodology on film and dream rhetoric, she analyzes the structure of unconscious desire in four key Surrealist films by Luis Buñuel: Un chien andalou and l'ge d'or (both co-scripted by Salvador Dalí) and Phantom of Liberty and That Obscure Object of Desire. 
- Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the Frenzy of the Visible (University of California Press, 1989). Expanded Paperback Edition: University of California Press, 1999, ISBN 0-520-21943-0
In this unprecedented and brilliant study, Linda Williams moves beyond the impasse of anti-porn/anti-censorship position-taking to analyze what hard-core film pornography is and does—as a genre with a history, as a specific cinematic form, and as part of contemporary discourse on sexuality. Working against tendencies to oversimplify hard core—either as pure abusive power or pure liberatory pleasure—Williams sees the form as inherently contradictory. Hard core claims to speak confessional and involuntary "truths" of sex. However, analysis of its forms (including its spectacular "money shots" and sexual "numbers" parallel to those in musicals) reveals that sex in the sense of a natural, visible "doing what comes naturally" is in fact the supreme and deeply contradictory fiction of the genre. Gender, the social construction of the relation between the sexes, is what determines this fiction.
For most of its history, pornography has been for men and about women. Yet in hard core's attempt to solve the riddles of sex with more, different, or better sex, the monolith of masculine pleasure breaks down and the possibility of women using pornography for their own purposes begins to emerge. To this end, Williams traces the roots of contemporary hard core's quest to see the "truth" of sex back to the origins of cinema itself—in motion studies of women's bodily movements. She then follows the generic development of hard core through its silent, primitive stag form and into feature-length narratives like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, up to its recent sadomasochistic and "couples market" permutations—showing how the form has begun to respond and react to changing gender relations. Neither a defense of what pornography has been nor a utopian dream of what it should be, this daring book refuses simply to scapegoat the form as the cause of all our ills. Instead, Williams utilizes the insights of recent studies of mass culture to show that hard core is a discourse, a genre, and a rhetoric that can only be understood through comparison with, rather than separation from, other forms.
Williams argues that "the money shot is thus an obvious perversion -in the literal sense of the term, as a swerving away from more "direct" forms of genital engagement- of the tactile sexual connection." Williams also explores similarly sensitive sexual subjects in the book, such as sadomasochism, rape, incest, and the role of a narrative in films that contain pornographic material. Joseph Slade, author and professor at Ohio University, wrote of her work that "Williams thinks of ejaculation as a leitmotif similar to those that punctuate musical comedy, a genre she thinks resembles the hard-core film. Although Williams' thesis tends to reduce porn films to a single heterosexual genre, Hard Core is remarkable because the author actually engages the subject instead of pontificating from distance and because she insists that feminists must learn to reevaluate sexual expression."
- Playing the Race Card: Melodramas of Black & White from Uncle Tom to O.J.Simpson, Princeton University Press, Paperback edition, 2002, ISBN 0-691-10283-X
The black man suffering at the hands of whites, the white woman sexually threatened by the black man. Both images have long been burned into the American conscience through popular entertainment, and today they exert a powerful and disturbing influence on Americans' understanding of race. So argues Linda Williams in this boldly inquisitive book, where she probes the bitterly divisive racial sentiments aroused by such recent events as O. J. Simpson's criminal trial. Williams, the author of Hard Core, explores how these images took root, beginning with melodramatic theater, where suffering characters acquire virtue through victimization.
The racial sympathies and hostilities that surfaced during the trial of the police in the beating of Rodney King and in the O. J. Simpson murder trial are grounded in the melodramatic forms of Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Birth of a Nation. Williams finds that Stowe's beaten black man and Griffith's endangered white woman appear repeatedly throughout popular entertainment, promoting interracial understanding at one moment, interracial hate at another. The black and white racial melodrama has galvanized emotions and fueled the importance of new media forms, such as serious, "integrated" musicals of stage and film, including The Jazz Singer and Show Boat. It also helped create a major event out of the movie Gone With the Wind, while enabling television to assume new moral purpose with the broadcast of Roots. Williams demonstrates how such developments converged to make the televised race trial a form of national entertainment.
When prosecutor Christopher Darden accused Simpson's defense team of "playing the race card," which ultimately trumped his own team's gender card, he feared that the jury's sympathy for a targeted black man would be at the expense of the abused white wife. The jury's verdict, Williams concludes, was determined not so much by facts as by the cultural forces of racial melodrama long in the making. Revealing melodrama to be a key element in American culture, Williams argues that the race images it has promoted are deeply ingrained in our minds and that there can be no honest discussion about race until Americans recognize this predicament.
- Screening Sex, Duke University Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8223-4285-4
For many years, kisses were the only sexual acts to be seen in mainstream American movies. Then, in the 1960s and 1970s, American cinema “grew up” in response to the sexual revolution, and movie audiences came to expect more knowledge about what happened between the sheets. In Screening Sex, the renowned film scholar Linda Williams investigates how sex acts have been represented on screen for more than a century and, just as important, how we have watched and experienced those representations. Whether examining the arch artistry of Last Tango in Paris, the on-screen orgasms of Jane Fonda, or the anal sex of two cowboys in Brokeback Mountain, Williams illuminates the forms of pleasure and vicarious knowledge derived from screening sex. Combining stories of her own coming of age as a moviegoer with film history, cultural history, and readings of significant films, Williams presents a fascinating history of the on-screen kiss, a look at the shift from adolescent kisses to more grown-up displays of sex, and a comparison of the “tasteful” Hollywood sexual interlude with sexuality as represented in sexploitation, Blaxploitation, and avant-garde films. She considers Last Tango in Paris and Deep Throat, two 1972 films unapologetically all about sex; In the Realm of the Senses, the only work of 1970s international cinema that combined hard-core sex with erotic art; and the sexual provocations of the mainstream movies Blue Velvet and Brokeback Mountain. She describes art films since the 1990s, in which the sex is aggressive, loveless, or alienated. Finally, Williams reflects on the experience of screening sex on small screens at home rather than on large screens in public. By understanding screening sex as both revelation and concealment, Williams has written the definitive study of sex at the movies.
- On The Wire (Forthcoming)
- Revision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism. Coedited with Mary Anne Doane and Patricia Mellencamp, American Film Institute Monograph Series Frederick Maryland: University Publications of America, 1984.
- Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing Film. Edited. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1994. ISBN 0-8135-2133-5
- Reinventing Film Studies. Co-edited anthology with Christine Gledhill. London: Edward Arnold. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-340-67723-6
- Porn Studies. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8223-3312-0
- Assistant Professor of English, University of Illinois, Chicago. 1977-83
- Associate Professor of English, University of Illinois, Chicago. 1984-89
- Professor, Film Studies, University of California, Irvine. 1989-97
- Acting Director, Winter 1993
- Director, Summer 1994 and Spring 1996
- Professor of Film Studies and Rhetoric, University of California, Berkeley. 1997–Present
- Director of Program in Film Studies, July 1999-Present 
Selected Honors and Awards
- 1989 Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize in Film, TV, and Video Studies for essay Fetishism and the Visual Pleasure of Hard Core: Marx, Freud and the 'Money Shot'; and finalist for the best book in Cinema Studies: both the Jay Leyda Prize and the Kovacks Prize (for Hard Core)
- 2004 Distinguished Teaching Award, UC Berkeley 
- 2004-5 Humanities Research Fellowship, UC Berkeley
- 2011 Faculties Research Lecture, UC Berkeley 
- 2012 Katherine Singer Kovacs Prize for "'Cluster Fuck': The Forcible Frame in Errol Morris' Standard Operating Procedure." 
- 2013 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Career Achievement Award 
- Class of 1940, Second Chair: University of California, Berkeley.
- Keith, Barry. Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology. Wallflower Press: 2007
- Williams, Linda (1999) . Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the "Frenzy of the Visible". University of California Press, LTD. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-520-21943-4.
- "Ohio University Faculty". Retrieved 2008-07-28.
- Slade, Joseph W. (2001) . Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide Vol. 2. Greenwood Press. p. 656. ISBN 0-313-31520-5.
- Linda Williams, Curriculum Vita